With 'Fields Of Unforgiveness' and 'My Dying Time' already being released to radio, the tone of this tenth studio opus was already evident and casting its ominous shadow over the hordes.
So the album was due to deliver 'Sabbath like riffs and soaring melodies with some piercing guitar solos that were unmistakeably from the mighty hands of Wylde. This isn't a bad summary for the eleven tracks that are caged within 'Catacombs Of The Black Vatican'. Is it just me, but isn't the album title awesome too?
We all know how Zakk Wylde is the beating heart and the core ingredient that makes Black Label Society the band they are. He produces this album, plays guitars, piano and strings, plus handles lead vocals in conjunction with being behind the artwork concept and writing all the material. Apart from all of that he doesn't really do a lot.
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It seems such a long time ago now when he arrived on the main stage at the 1994 Monsters of Rock festival at Donington Park to the controversy of fans everywhere. Other acts that appeared on the second stage were deemed more qualified and well worthy of such an esteemed place on the bill, but Pride & Glory took the stage by storm nevertheless. That year was the first time the festival had presented fans with two stages, those were the days eh? Incidentally, their self-titled album is very impressive if I'm to be honest, and who couldn't fall in love with the final track called 'Hate Your Guts'?
Looking at this album, you get the tender side of the band as they share the beautiful 'Angel Of Mercy', the emotive 'Scars' and the album-closer 'Shades Of Gray' which showcases both their tranquil side before introducing some distortion for the big showdown without losing sight of the melodious back-bone.
Strings make for a subtle addition in 'Scars' which is mostly acoustic-based. Out of the three, perhaps 'Angel Of Mercy' also incorporating a tasty string section would make a strong single with that delicious chorus.
When Wylde cranks that guitar though, is when the vibes of familiarity and comfort flow forth. 'Believe' is chunky; 'Heart Of Darkness' wields a mighty riff; 'Beyond The Down' is trimmed of excess and goes for the jugular; 'Damn The Flood' explodes into life like a fireball pillaging the ears with that infamous roar from Wylde sporadically breaking the cutting riff.
Taking a step back and thinking about this album, you've got to say that it feels like a band which is comfortable in its own skin these days. There are no surprises really, just maintaining the quality that is close to Wylde's pride; making sure the rockers deliver a hook and provide ample inner rage whilst sharing the fragility of raw emotion in the slower tracks.
John DeServio provides the bass with Chad Szeliga on drums. Both do a great job of providing some foundations on which Wylde can explore and devour with his usual touch. There isn't a great deal to criticise once you've heard it a few times. Maybe the lack of surprise could be a negative, but to the fans of this guy and this band the album ticks all of the boxes.
Fields Of Unforgiveness
My Dying Time
Angel Of Mercy
Heart Of Darkness
Beyond The Down
Damn The Flood
I've Gone Away
Shades Of Gray